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NIH funds new phase of high school-university research partnership
Date:10/5/2009

the plant looks or acts different," said Dolan. "Sometimes, there is no visible difference. Maybe the missing gene is one that helps the plant respond to drought or insect attack, but that attribute is unknown until the plant is appropriately stressed."

Arabidopsis thaliana has 25,000 genes. Imagine the environmental variables that have to be tested. "We have lots of high school students and they can stress the plants in ways we can't even imagine. So the scientists are knocking out genes of interest and giving the seeds to the students, who are designing environments to study plants' reactions," said Dolan. "Students have made discoveries that are acknowledged in grant proposals and publications."

For instance, in an article her group published in the journal Plant Physiology in May 2008, Virginia Tech biology Professor Brenda Winkel acknowledged by name the students in Cheryl Weidow's fall 2006 biotechnology class at Louisa County High School, who first pointed out the enhanced pigmentation phenotype of plants she had provided for study. Winkel described the finding for a magazine article last year: "The students noticed that the mutant plants were redder than normal. We were able to quantify the difference and showed that it was real," said Winkel. "It is easy for us [the scientists] to overlook subtle differences in the appearance of a plant when we are focused on understanding how things work at a molecular level. The students are quite astute. It demonstrates how working with different perspectives can move things forward."

Shannon Beasley, a teacher at the Central Virginia Governor's School for Science and Technology in, Lynchburg, Va., said of PREP, "The students are able to directly contribute to science that is current. There are not many opportunities for students to work with universities and for scientists to get data."

The goal of the Science Education Partnership Award is to change that to expand the opportuniti
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Contact: Susan Trulove
STrulove@vt.edu
540-231-5646
Virginia Tech
Source:Eurekalert  

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